Image

My focus is this reading from Paul to the Corinthians tonight.  And to unpack it I want to look at an image from ancient Christian art that should help milk the reading’s meaning for us.  Here’s the quote from Paul that I’m focusing on:

“For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God.” 
1 Cor 2:11

Here is the image from early Christian art.  It’s of the head of Christ, looking very regal and holding up his hand with two fingers extended as if giving a blessing.  You have perhaps seen this image. 

The first thing to know about this work of art is that it was based on an image of Caesar that was common at the time.   So the early Church was saying Caesar is not our ruler; Jesus Christ is.  This is huge.  And it still has relevance for us today.  Some people for instance think that a latter day Caesar, “Invisible Hand of Capitalism,” will guide us to peace and prosperity; it will be the answer to world poverty for instance.  Yet we know that the economics of the Reign of God are quite different from the economics of greed and hording and dominating.  So the fact that God is given God’s rightful place (above any Caesar) is a good thing. 

Judeo-Christian Blessings Are Not Top-Down

However we need to be careful when using an image of Caesar to portray the Christ.  Why?  Because everything about Caesar’s worldview is top-down.  Caesar is pictured as being the source of all blessings in trickledown fashion for all of humanity.  While God is definitely totally awesome and beyond even the imaginings of humans, God creates communion not domination.   

For the Hebrews the concept of blessing was not a one-way street.  The experience of worship was one where the people “blessed” God, and God “blessed” the people.  It was mutual, an experience of love flowing back and forth between persons. 

The early Christians understood this.  Their experience of God was that of having their own deepest selves mixing freely with God’s own deepest Self in an intimate participation in love and partnership.  (That is the meaning of Paul’s quote above.)  But the reality is even deeper than that. 

The Two Natures of Christ Point to Our True Natures

As the early Christians took in this image of Christ, with his two fingers raised, they gave meaning to those two extended fingers of Christ, a meaning that came out of this deep understanding of blessing that they had.  They saw those two fingers as a symbol, a reminder, of the two natures of Christ, human and divine.  They understood Jesus to be “true God and true human,” as the creed says.  Jesus lived as a human; Jesus lived as God.  This is not just a cold “dogma” that Christians assent to but that has no practical difference in our lives.  This is right at the core of why we are attracted to Christianity at all.

We are invited to live at the same level as Christ.  The two natures of Christ is a pattern that we ourselves are invited into.  It isn’t just that our spirit mixes with the Divine Spirit at a time of worship.  It is that God allows us to participate in God’s own life.  It’s one thing to be in the presence of God and to be loved by God; it is another thing to be living God’s own life.  Such is the blessing that we experience.

We are never alone.  We are never without resources.  Paul tells us in this passage from First Corinthians: “… no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.”  This is a key conviction we have in the midst of darkness, in the midst of what feels like the imprisonment of our frail humanity, in the midst of life’s crucifixions.  Someone is alive within us Who is not us but Who in some mysterious way is not other than us either.  We are sharing her life.  Living in that reality is a different kind of life.

Epiphany 5A

Sts. Clare & Francis
Fifth Sunday of the Year
Saturday, February 9, 2014
Isaiah 58:1-9a
Roman Catholic reading: Isaiah 58:7-10
1 Corinthians 2:1-12, (13-16)
Matthew 5:13-16
Homily by Frank Krebs

Photo by Derek Davalos on flickr.com

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